NHL-Bettman questions Winter Olympics hiatus

Thu Jan 21, 2010 5:21pm EST

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* NHL questions impact on shutting down for Olympics

* Bettman says Games take toll on league, players

By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta, Jan 21 (Reuters) - The National Hockey League is questioning the future involvement of its players in the Winter Olympics because of the interruption to the NHL's season and the physical toll it takes on teams, commissioner Gary Bettman said on Thursday.

There are no agreements in place for Olympics following the Vancouver Winter Games next month, Bettman said. He plans to discuss the issue of the two-week hiatus that takes place every four years with the NHL Players' Association.

No decisions have been made, he said.

"It's difficult for any business, any league, to shut down for two weeks with the attendant loss of attention and everything that flows from that," Bettman told reporters after speaking to a business audience in Calgary, where three players from the NHL's Flames will compete in Vancouver.

"And there are competitive issues. Our teams send a varying amount of players to the Olympics and so a team that sends eight or nine players may come back a little more tired and banged up than an NHL team that sends none or one or two."

Pro hockey players have competed in the Olympics since the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan. Their involvement was touted as a way to ensure the world's best players competed for national supremacy on the ice.

Bettman acknowledged that many players wanted opportunities to compete as a matter of national pride. But the league must also weigh the impact on its finances and on fans who must stop following their teams mid-season.

One of the NHL's biggest stars, Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, has said he would participate in the 2014 Winter Games in his home country of Russia, regardless of the league's stance.

It may be worth shutting down NHL play for Olympic Games that take place in North American cities, such as Vancouver or Salt Lake City in 2002, because the NHL's main television audience is in Canada and the United States, Bettman added. That may not be the case for Games in another hemisphere.

"So the question is, is it worth it? I don't have an answer for that yet and it's fortunately something we don't have to decide right now," he said.

The last NHL games before this year's Olympic break take place on Feb. 14 and league play resumes March 1. (Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Rob Wilson)

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